The following public comments were delivered by Harford County Council Vice-President Richard Slutzky to the Board of Education at a Board meeting held Monday evening. A copy of Mr. Slutzky’s comments was provided to The Dagger for publication.
I am speaking this evening as Council Vice-President and Education Liaison to the Board of Education.
I and several members of the Harford County Council have serious concerns about the Administration’s letter dated July 17, 2013, which was sent to parents and guardians of students attending Harford County Public Schools, under the signatures of Superintendent Canavan and individual principals from the various public schools in Harford County.
The Council must assume that the language in this letter was approved by the Board of Education.
It is obvious from the comments and questions Council members have received from county citizens that the first sentence of this letter was at best, badly misinterpreted by them, or at worst, deliberately and grossly misleading.
The first sentence of this letter reads, and I quote: “In May 2013, the County Council approved the county budget, which resulted in a shortfall of $20.2 million in the Board of Education’s previously approved budget.”
Let’s dissect this statement, starting with the ending and working backward. Citizens interpreted the statement, “…the Board of Education’s previously approved budget.” to mean that the Council cut a previously funded budget.
Every member of this Board of Education understands that the Council has no appropriation authority. Under state law the Council can only act on a formal budget submitted to the Council by the County Executive who is the county funding authority.
The public needs to understand that the Board of Education approval was for a budget request, which the BOE provided to the County Executive – a request only. The Board of Education budget, constructed by the County Executive, is only one part of the overall county budget. The Council acts solely on the entire county budget submitted by the County Executive.
The County Executive presents the Council with a budget. In the section for the Board of Education operational budget, he provided almost $2 million more than the state mandated limit for maintenance of effort, and more money than the 2013 budget. He also sent the Council amendments that increased the Board of Education capital budget by $2.6 million, which was approved by the Council.
Under certain circumstances, the state education law gives the Council authority to add money to the education budget. However, whatever additional funding the Council would give to education would have to be cut from other county government departments or state agencies the county funds; such as the Sheriff’s Office, the Health Department, the Library System or the Community College. In the present economy, it would be very difficult for the Council to cut tens of millions of dollars from other government departments and agencies and give it to the Board of Education.
This Board of Education also understands that under state law the Council must fund the education portion of the county overall budget to at least the mandated level of maintenance of effort.
The public must also understand that since 1986, when maintenance of effort became law, in Harford County every Council has provided the Board of Education with more money than required under the law. Harford is one of only four counties in Maryland that can make that claim. In the ten years I have served on the Harford County Council no Board of Education operational budget funding requested by the County Executive has ever been cut.
Now let’s take a look at the beginning of your letter’s first sentence, “…the County Council approved the county budget…” Some citizens inferred that the Council should not have passed the Executive’s budget.
I’m not sure if every member of this Board realizes the consequences of not passing the budget. Certainly very few citizens have a clue what those consequences are. If the Council doesn’t pass the budget, the state requires the county to fund operational budgets equal to the previous budget year. For the Board of Education that would mean less money than they were given in the 2014 budget. Far more catastrophic is that all capital project funding stops. Think of the tens of millions of dollars in various agency budgets that are intended to replace HVAC systems, to repair roofs, to pave parking lots or to replace declining infrastructure. Not funding the budget would have been a disaster.
The public needs to know that once the county government transfers hundreds of millions of dollars to the Board of Education, neither the County Executive nor the County Council have any say or influence on how the Board of Education chooses to balance their budget or spend that money.
Decisions on pay to play, or bus transportation adjustments, or staff reductions, or whatever, are the complete responsibility of the Board of Education.
In conclusion, it is my hope that if the Board of Education, or this Public School Administration believes it appropriate to make public comments about county budget processes, county budget responsibilities, or budget decisions, those comments should be clear, accurate, and truthful. At this point, it would be difficult for me and my Council colleagues to be convinced that any of these conditions were met in the letter which was circulated.
It is also the hope of this County Council, and the expectation, that a letter correcting the erroneous information previously presented be circulated to the public.
Thank you for your attention.